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I Can’t Get No (Social) Satisfaction

This post was first published by Nate Hubbell on March Communications’ blog, PR Nonsense, and may be viewed here.

Questionable Rolling Stones puns aside, apropos, social media does seem to have some satisfaction problems. According to the most recent round of survey statistics from the American Customer Satisfaction Index (ACSI), social media companies’ customer satisfaction ratings in general are down an average of  1.4% from the same time last year.

That’s actually not to say that every social media property is in a customer satisfaction rut, though. Google+, which, personally, I have still never used, actually saw its satisfaction ratings grow significantly. It scored a 78 out of 100 in the raw survey ratings, making it one of the most improved of any of the more than 230 companies, and giving it the same rating as Wikipedia (which, I have to say, still not sure how ‘social’ that site is…but I digress).

But back to this decline (because let’s face it – that’s really the more interesting side of it).

One of the biggest drops in the social media category was Facebook, whose customer satisfaction rating dropped 8% in the last year. Among the reasons for the drop that respondents cited were privacy concerns and the new Timeline feature, which users described as frustrating and confusing to use. Both of these are things that some of my colleagues have blogged about before, most recently in light of Facebook”s automatic adjustment to users’ contact details. As a Facebook user, I would probably have responded similarly regarding the site’s privacy and ease of use traits.

Side note: anyone else find it more than a bit ironic that a “social” media site seems to be acting so socially unaware so often? Again, I digress.

But perhaps more worryingly than these two reasons was the third, and in fact most-often cited, reason for Facebook dissatisfaction: advertising. Users have complained that Facebook’s addition of advertising in to the newsfeed has made them feel, as CNCB put it, “bombarded” by ads. As the same article points out, this weak point may be more problematic than the other two, as advertising is how Facebook makes its money, and was almost the entire reasoning behind why it said it was worth its record-breaking $100B IPO earlier this year. If users are going to start ignoring ads on the site, that’s a major problem for Facebook’s long term outlook.

But even more to the point, as Debra Williamson, a social media advertising analyst for eMarketer, says in CNBC’s article “the fact that Facebook users feel bombarded by Facebook ads in the first place is interesting because most ads appear on the right side of the website, which doesn’t really interfere with user experience,” and as for the newsfeed ads “the ads look just like any other post on Facebook, they’re made not to be blaring or glaring in your face.”

So…why do Facebook users cite the ads as problematic? I have another theory and I would be interested to hear your reaction to it. I think this survey may be one of the first quantitative indications that Facebook’s IPO, which was so widely talked about for months and which was so strongly based on the company’s business plan to make money from ads, created a PR problem of very substantial proportions that has been lurking under the surface for a while, and which only now has started to be more adequately described with the ACSI rating: Facebook users are turned off at the idea of ads in general, especially that the social site that they have chosen to share their personal information with would turn around and use that information for profit.

Perhaps its naive that Facebook users would think this way, perhaps it’s not. Perhaps I’m just totally off and it really is about how pervasive the ads are becoming. What do you think? What is your level of satisfaction with Facebook and other news sites like these days?

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